For Sale: Quilts

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Well, I’ve posted some of my first quilts for sale at my Watermountain Studio website.

So naturally… it’s today that I learn that I can offer these things for sale directly through my blog, here.  Ah, well.

On offer are some of the quilts depicted here:IMG_6131.JPG

The quilt that I’m proudest of, is this one composed of triangles. They’re not arranged in any particular order (other than to form a border of green-black triangles and blue triangles around the borders of the quilt).  Triangles and hexagons are really difficult to get right, and getting started on this project was a little terrifying. This is only the second quilt that I’ve ever done using triangles and hexagons, and I think that it came out pretty well for a second try.

The other three quilts are based on strips-to-squares patterns.  What that means, is that there are a series of strips, say 40″ long by 2 1/2″ wide.  Those are sewn together in groups of three, and then the groups of three are cut into squares of around 6-7″ on a side. Two of the quilts just have a standard edge-binding, like the Blue/Black/White Quilt.  One of them, the colorful one, has a semi-random pattern of gold dots that catch the light.  The Black/White Quilt has an additional border sewn around the edges. Seven of those squares long, and five wide, is about the size of what’s called an Infant’s Quilt in America, or around 30″ x 40″ finished and edge-bound.  A Crib Quilt is about 30″ wide by 54″ long, and that requires a lot more squares, of course.

So now these quilts are all available on Etsy.

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Quilting: three quilts

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I’ve been away for a few days, working elsewhere and on other projects. But it was time to return home, and get back to work.

I finished the tops of these three quilts almost a month ago… NO, it’s exactly a month ago.  Today I got to finish them.  I need to work on my edge-binding techniques.  I still don’t get it right.

And I’m eternally grateful to Beehive Sewing for teaching me how to sew in the first place, and giving me the confidence in my abilities to tackle projects like these. (Fiber Arts Boston Resource and Innovation Center [FABRIC] is also a great place to learn to sew). It’s a good idea, if you’re new to sewing, to take a basic introductory class, and then a few supplemental classes. That’s often enough to get you started with some sophisticated work. Not always, but usually. 

So these quilts are done. What can I say about what I’ve learned?

First, the edge-binding process is difficult. There are a dozen ways to do it, all of them are fiddly and require a lot of attention.  I often don’t have enough patience for the finishing, though I’m getting better.  It’s meditative, really, when you get into it for real.  At the same time, it’s a lot of fussing with a fiddly double-folded strip of fabric that doesn’t ever want to do quite what you want it to do.  So I need to get better at that.

How do you get better at it? Make more quilts, curiously enough. Do it more times. Try again, read a few articles, fail, and try again.

Second, the question of pattern is exceptionally complicated.  If you look at the first quilt, in black and white, you can see that I attempted to create a pattern with my black and white striped squares. That’s great, as far as it goes.  But if you look in closer detail, it emerges that the black and white fabrics have their own sub-patterns. It’s not just black and white; it’s black and white with subtle contrasts. And at a distance, it makes the overall design… murky, even random.

That’s less true with the first quilt with blocks of color.  Joann Fabrics effectively chose these colors for me, when they packaged them in a set.  I don’t think it worked out too badly, but it’s still a little wonky.

The blue-black-gray-white quilt, I think is my favorite.  It sort of has a boyish vibe to it.  Yet it’s got some floral elements to it, so it’s not completely ‘masculine’ as our current society understands it. Again, some pattern-issues emerge when I look at photographs of it that I didn’t see when I was making it.  And I need to learn to do a better job with quilting a quilt — stitching the three layers of a quilt together.  This is something that takes a lot of patience and practice, I’m discovering.

The last photograph shows one of my feet sticking into the frame.  In some ways this is an error, but it also gives you a sense of their size.  It’s not purely 30×40″, an infant-size quilt should be… I’m struggling a bit with the question of sizing of quilts, I admit.  But it’s still a good marker of the size I’m working with.   I’ve found that it’s a bit difficult for me to work with larger sizes than this, underneath the needle of my new machine, though. So I have to think about whether this is the largest that I’ll go, or whether I’ll try my hand at making a queen-sized quilt.

I’ll likely be posting two of these quilts to my Etsy store as For Sale items later this week, along with some tool-roll pencil cases.

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Tool rolls

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I have a new sewing machine. Here it is, in all its glory.I’ve been using it to make tool rolls out of fat quarters of quilting fabric, with the intention of making about 10-20 of these for friends’ children who are going back to school. They’re small projects; they allow me to practice certain skills with my new sewing machine and get used to how this machine works; and they allow me to create things that I don’t then have to keep for myself — they’re easily given away. A Fat Quarter generally costs around $2.50, so these are around $5.50 in materials (including thread) and maybe $10-15 in my time… time that I’d have to spend anyway, practicing the skills I want to be practicing.

The idea is that many children are not able to manage the ‘bunched-up’ mess of a pencil case. Too many tools squeezed into too small of a bag results in a lot of broken pens and pencils without points or erasers.

The tool roll consists of two fat quarters of fabric cut and trimmed to match each other, sewn together and turned.  One end is folded over and seamed to create pockets or tubes for individual pens and pencils; the other end folds over to form a protective cover for the tools inside.

It’s better to introduce students to the idea of order and structure for tools, early. So in a tool roll, each tool has a place: this place for a pen, this one for a pencil, a ruler here, a compass here.  THere’s a ribbon or a band or a string on the outside, that allows one to close up the tools neatly inside, as well.  This is ribbon left over from a fancy men’s clothing store in New York, from whence I received several nice birthday shirts over the years.

I’ve saved all that ribbon, never knowing what to do with it.  Now I know: Tool Rolls.

There’s a second band inside each tool roll, as well: two strips of fabric left over from the cutting/trimming process, sewn together and turned. This is then sewn down to match the tubes/pockets on the lower half of the outer shell.  The result is that each pencil or pen has its place in the case/roll.

By teaching children to order their tools in some sort of careful way, we teach them to need fewer of them, to treat them responsibly as tools, and to know how to store tools effectively.

It helps them be organized, it helps them know exactly how much of each tool to carry, and it helps them know when a tool is worn out or broken and needs to be replaced.

Greco Roman

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I promised pictures of the garments that I made for people going to the Pennsic War. Here they are, minus some faces.

First up, though nearly last-made, is a fighter’s tunic, meant to go over armor and keep the more plastic bits of the armor from showing to the assembled crowd. Simply a large rectangular bloc of fabric, adorned with strips of trim, hemmed, and a neck T-hole cut through the middle. Should work fine over the armor, and only a few hours’ work. There was enough fabric left that we could probably make something small out of it, a few bags perhaps, possibly some other things. We’ll see.  The neck-hole is a T-shaped slot lined with more of this pale brown trim. I did the machine stitching with a paler purple-red color that the fighter can pass off as “the last thread from our house in Carthage before the sack of the city at the end of the Third Punic War.”

It’s good to have a story.

The second things I’m showing off, but the first made, was a Roman senatorial toga, two broad purple stripes of a different cloth than the main body of the white toga. This was for a different client.  Underneath the toga is a tunica cerulea, a sky-blue tunic.  AT the time of the fitting of the garment, I hadn’t yet hemmed the neckline.  Both garments are essentially linen.  Both should be very, very nice after a few washings.

The footwear needs some work, of course.  But that’s how these things usually go.

In essence, this toga is a sari.  It’s the width of the fabric, selvedge edge to selvedge edge, hemmed on all four sides, with the purple ends attached as a result of two folds in the fabric to make a broad double-seam in the middle.  Saris are woven completely from end to end, so this isn’t a sari. But in terms of length, it seems about the same.  In terms of width, it seems about the same.  And it’s a pretty plausible re-construction of a toga, as near as I can tell.  Which makes more sense than some of the other constructions I’ve seen, that appear to require looms dozens of yards wide.
I don’t know if the third garment is historical or not, but it’s basically a wraparound skirt or short kilt with a strip of trim on three sides.  Wrap it around you, left over right, belt at the waist, fold the upper part over the belt, voila! Working clothes on a hot day when you feel like being shirtless.  It seemed the best use for a broad strip of fabric left over from a chiton, at least for the guy whose fabric it was.

So… those are some of the projects I’ve worked on and finished this weekend and early week.  I wonder what’s next?

In the meantime, back to quilting.

Tool roll

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I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!

Triangle quilt

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This is the second quilt I’ve made that uses triangles. The first such quilt I made, I assembled hexagon shaped “blocks” and then sewed the blocks together. With this quilt, I assembled the triangles into rows, and then sewed the rows together. Something went wrong diring the assembly process though. If you look closely you can see the challenge: partway through, I seemed to run out of triangles. So I added more triangles to the pattern. And I wound up with an extra row. The first photo shows the quilt as planned: the second photo shows the quilt top as assembled. 
So this quilt has an extra or unneeded row. Now I have to decide if I’m going to even the work out by adding another row, or leave the thing unbalanced as it currently is.

Quilt: triangles

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Had you told me at the start of this project what a terrible construction system triangles and hexagons were, I might not have believed you. I admit that. But I hadn’t expected them to be quite so much of a bear to construct as they actually were.

It seems simple enough, really. Cut triangles slightly larger than you want them to be. Clip the corners, or imagine them clipped, and imagine a 1/4″ seam allowance around each piece. As you sew them together, either in rows or in hexagon ‘blocks’, the pattern you’ve chosen begins to emerge. Alternate solid and patterned fabrics for a more elegant design with much more visual interest.  Seems simple, right?

Nobody explained what a bear those corners are in the middle. If you want a really elegant point on your star or on the fan of triangles at the center of your hexagon, that’s about 3x more work than “just sewing triangles together.”

Still, sooner or later you have to do it. It’s not possible to just keep building quilts out of squares forever. Sooner or later, you have to grit your teeth, stomp your feet, and assemble a quilt that uses triangles or hexagons.  You make your templates, slice up your fabric, and get to work sewing.
And things go wrong. You mis-marked a triangular piece. You didn’t mark a piece. You didn’t clip the corner of a triangle. You didn’t clip the correct corner at the right angle of a triangle. You removed too much of a corner. Your chalk wore off the piece of fabric. THere’s a dozen (a million) things that could go wrong. It doesn’t matter. “Build the whole prototype,” says a friend of mine in the engineering business. “That way, you know where the serious mistakes are.” There are a lot of serious mistakes in this quilt top.

Still, there are some successes.  Some of my center corners are pretty spot-on.  Some of my external centers look pretty good, too.  Some portions of this quilt look awesome.  And some percentage of those who see the finished product will never know there were any mistakes at all, once I’m done quilting it within an inch of its life.   The perfect is the enemy of the good, wrote Plato, as the words of Socrates.  And so it seems here, too — the more perfectly I try to make this quilt on the first try ever with this technique, the more likely the quilt will wind up unfinished in a drawer for months out of frustration.

And so it is that the quilt is here — pinned to its batting and backing, and ready for the quilting-sandwich: layers of stitching that will bind the upper layer to the bottom layer through the middle layer.  And then there will be bias tape to make, and edge-binding.

And then it will be done.

It’s certainly not the best quilt that I’ve ever made.  It’s certainly the best triangle-based quilt I’ve ever made, given that it’s the only triangle-based quilt I’ve made (though not the only hexagon-based quilt I’ve made — see English Paper Piecing and some of my further insight.)  But most of what it is, is a learning experience.  I’ve made this quilt, and I now know enough of the process that a range of similar patterns and workings are now open to me.  I can do this again and again, as needed and as desired.

Just don’t ask me to make a triangle-based quilt for free. Ever.

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